Man United 1 (O’Shea 19) Arsenal 0
(Champions League Semi Final)
The only thing any Arsenal fan can feel this morning is relief that, against all odds, we are somehow still in the Champions League. On the balance of last night’s first leg, the semi final tie should be comprehensively beyond our reach.
It wasn’t just that we played badly (we did), it has to be said that United were superb. They played at a tempo that seemed to surprise us, as if we were expecting a cagey affair, and tactically they were perfectly set up to nullify our attack – with Fletcher, Anderson and Carrick outnumbering us in central midfield, the only way was around, and crosses were either blocked or dealt with comfortably by Ferdinand and Vidic.
Up front, Adebayor cut a lonely figure, and his isolation seemed to take away his motivation, so easily was he brushed off the ball all night. Meanwhile Cesc, playing in the advanced midfield role he is less suited to, struggled to get into the game while Nasri, behind him, mopped up well but was too far removed to be a creative influence.
The goal itself was a horrible one to concede, everyone being sucked to the near post from a corner, and three players being left unmarked at the back stick, O’Shea firing home. Gibbs, on the line, could do nothing.
The youngster, along with the rest of defence, actually did very well for the rest of the night. Gibbs had a tough ask, being assigned to mark Ronaldo out of the game, and Rooney when they switched wings. Ronaldo’s frustration was evident with a trademark second half dive. But the man of the match from our point of view has to be Almunia, who made great saves from Tevez just before the goal, Ronaldo afterwards, and a few others that single handedly kept us alive.
Even some of the maligned individuals were doing well. Silvestre showed his experience to spot danger and had a good night, Song is growing into his role, while Sagna looked better than he did against Chelsea. But going forward, we offered nothing, bar a tame Cesc shot and a late Bendtner header that could’ve given us the least deserved away goal in history. Walcott had no service and got no change out of Evra.
United had plenty of chances – Giggs had a goal disallowed for a very close offside, while Ronaldo thumped the bar with one of his specials. To be frank, 2-0 wouldn’t even do justice to their dominance, 3-0 would have been fairer.
But it is a credit to our doggedness (and yes, to our luck), that the deficit is only one. Can United play as well again in the second leg, and can we be as toothless? You would hope not. The news that Ferdinand may miss the second leg is huge – United are weakened dramatically when either he or Vidic is missing, so dominant are they as a partnership.
In five days time, our season gets defined. We cannot play like we did last night, we have to have a real go at them. If we’re going out, let’s go our fighting, but with more luck like that we enjoyed last night, we may yet reach the final.